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How to Give Great Presentations as a Scientist: It's Not About the Slides

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Have you heard this? “Our marketing department created the slides and they want us to use them so that the company has a consistent approach to the market.” In effect, scientists are being told not to adjust presentations to their unique audience.

What is the problem with that? Who doesn’t want consistency in their outreach efforts? Companies cannot have every individual presenter making up or adjusting the corporate brand, can they?

Brilliance ≠ Greatness

Of course not. But each presentation needs to fit its audience. Which means the presenter must do the research to understand in depth the needs of the audience. No matter how brilliant the presentation, if it does not match the audience needs, it is a waste of time and effort.

For over twenty years we’ve been working with amazing scientists who make presentations to other scientists. Yet despite the extraordinary depth of understanding of their subject matter, many initially miss the point of making great presentations. It is not the transference of data, evidence, research, or logical arguments. It is helping others to see the world differently. With that new insight, the audience can think thoughts and solve problems in ways they could not have done before the presentation.

Brilliance is Simplicity

While science can be complex, it does not have to be presented in a difficult-to-understand manner. Perhaps the classroom education of scientists has led many of them to accept poor presentations as a matter of course. But our experience has shown us that Einstein had it right.

Great presentations begin with a clear objective and then progress by building a fine, clear presentation structure around meeting audience needs. The first words from the presenter capture audience attention. Each segment of the presentation has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Real world complexity is built one simple idea at a time. Connections are clearly drawn. Processes are mapped. Point builds upon point all the way to a conclusion that creates a crafted finish, not an end.

Memorable Stories Captivate Your Audience

Great presentations are more like a movie or a symphony than anything else. The world of science creates fantastic stories. Presenters take us with them as they show us the journey and struggles ideas must take to become useful. They make the journey as exciting as Smetana’s musical story of the Moldau, as Spielberg’s story of Saving Private Ryan. They reveal the drama, the wonder of how ideas come to life. Struggle and tension yield to dramatic, break-through results.

Research shows that stories increase retention by over 20%!

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